Lessons from Randy Maxwell #4: Monsters & Mistaken Identity

It has been quite some time since I updated this series, but I'll be finishing it up over the next few weeks. I'm determined that this series will not fall into the "things left unfinished" pile that I've accumulated over the years of running this site. This post is part of a series about what I learned from my first issue of Dungeon Magazine. For the whole series, click here.

Two encounters in the Shards of the Day adventure really stuck out to me at the time as unique: the spore zombie encounter that almost tricks PCs into attacking potential allies and the "eye monster" encounter. Looking back now, I realize that the same or similar tricks have been used numerous times by other authors, but at the time I was amazed.

The spore zombies are actually mindless servants of the myconids, who will help the PCs in return for a favor. However, they look pretty menacing at first, and almost every player I know would have his character attack before the dangerous beasts realize they've been seen. In reality, they aren't very capable opponents at all, but their myconid masters are quite dangerous: their numbers alone can be overwhelming in this adventure. This type of encounter reminds me of watchdogs. As dangerous as they look, you shouldn't kill them... wait for their masters to call them off!

The "eye monster" encounter is also deceptive, but is dangerous to the PCs regardless of how they respond. The svirfneblin complain about this eye monster, leading the characters to believe that they'll be taking on a beholder. In reality, there is no beholder at all... just gas spores that are being herded toward the gnomes (and later the PCs) by a much more dangerous threat: driders. This particular trick is much more difficult to pull off with a simple monster switch, but an illusion or two will do just fine. When I ran this encounter in my own campaign, I switched one of the drider's spells to Magic Mouth and had even more fun with the encounter. The gas spore was a much more convincing beholder when it was chanting arcane phrases as it approached...

All in all, these are the kinds of tricks that get old if overused, but that are necessary to keep your players on their toes.
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